Posts Tagged ‘the artful dodger’

SLCR #218 – Geoff Berner (July 29, 2015)

August 6, 2015

I was on the fence about this one.

PRO: The first time I saw Geoff Berner was a fantastic night of music that made me a fan of Ford Pier, and then made me a fan of Berner, and then made me a fan of Carolyn Mark, and it’s in my top 10 shows ever

CON: One time I saw Berner at O’Hanlon’s and it was full of people who didn’t pay to get in and didn’t know who he was and weren’t interested in his weirdness or his accordion or his politics and he responded by not caring in kind

PRO: The Artful Dodger is a nice venue, much more suited to Berner

CON: I thought it would be well suited to Danny Michel too, but it was full of people who didn’t appear to pay cover and weren’t interested in listening and wouldn’t get out of my way

CON: Nobody wanted to go with me

PRO: It was during my vacation week from work so what the hell

That last one only brings it up to a tie and really shouldn’t count anyway, but it pushed me over the line somehow. VACATION WOO

So yeah. I went alone to the Artful Dodger for the show. I wandered in past an unattended pile of CDs and books, and hit the bar to pay for my ticket and get the least beer-flavoured beer I could identify (Shock Top). My fears of Berner being drowned out by the chatty supper crowd were unfounded. I got there right before the scheduled 8:00 start time – the opening act was already on stage, doing their soundcheck while Berner sat at a table down in front with some friends – and I was the first person to sit in the bench seats at the back. At the peak of the evening, I don’t think there were more than 70 people in attendance, including the staff and musicians. I am pretty bad at guessing attendance, but I had time enough to count people, so I think this one is reasonably accurate.

The openers were the Whiskey Jerks, a six-piece from Saskatoon. They brought a nice mix of instruments with them, including an accordion, a violin, a standing bass, and a range of wind instruments (he said, hiding his inability to confidently identify anything beyond a flute). It was folk music that had a real swing to it, delivered with a good sense of humour. These folks seemed like they were having a good time and that was contagious. They played for about 45 minutes or so, stopping at one point to ask Berner how much time they had left (he didn’t know and didn’t seem the slightest bit concerned). I was only familiar with the last song they played, which was one of Berner’s. This all worked out well. You could tell they really liked that song, Berner seemed to enjoy the tribute (they’d obviously cleared it with him beforehand), and I got to hear one of my favourite Berner songs, Wealthy Poet. That was actually the third time I’d heard someone else play that one; it’s performed by Maria in the Shower on the Festival Man album (a collection of Berner songs performed by other artists), and I heard some random band playing it on Scarth Street one noon hour a few years ago. It’s a good one. A nice mix of catchy and horrifically bleak.

I think Geoff Berner has opinions. I say “I think” because lyrics are poetry and poetry is subjective, right? I’m an English major, I know that you can bullshit any sort of “meaning” out of any random collection of words. But I am reasonably confident when I say that Geoff Berner has opinions. He played a new song with what he described as a subtle political message. This song was called “I Think That We Should Probably Just Vote NDP This Time.” This song has not yet been released, so I don’t know if “When we get proportional representation, then you can go ahead and vote your Greens” was part of the official title. Maybe in parentheses?

If you’re still unclear about Berner’s political leanings, another new song included the lines “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious / I hope Stephen Harper dies of multiple sclerosis,” to which he added “preferably in a First Nations health centre in a reserve in northern Ontario. Or a ditch!”

That song was about one the great joys of being Jewish; namely, you get to dance and celebrate when bad things befall your enemies. He also played a new one called “I Feel Less Mad At God When I See You In Your Summer Dress,” as well as the song he opened his set with, “We Are Going To Bremen To Be Musicians.” That one is the theme song to the new children’s book he just put out. Because of course he did and of course it is. Really, the majority of the show was made up of new songs; I have all of Berner’s albums, and I still only recognized a handful of tunes – That’s What Keeps The Rent Down Baby, Maginot Line, Mayn Rue Platz, and the closing number, When DD Gets Her Donkey, Everything Will Be Alright. And Daloy Polizei, which translates into “fuck the police.” Berner graciously offered other klezmer bands the opportunity to cover the song and replace some of the lyrics with their own stories of police brutality, “you know, for that local flavour. There’s lots to choose from right now.”

I was a little disappointed that the set was so short. He shut things down after about an hour, which surprised me. He has a ton of songs, and despite the relatively low turnout, the folks who did show up were really into it. That, or it’s just easy to get people to shout along to “STUPID, STUPID” or “FUCK THE POLICE.” Either way, I had a good time.

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SLCR #216: Danny Michel (June 13, 2015)

June 15, 2015

I bought my first Danny Michel CD about 12 years ago. I’d never heard any of his music before. The purchase was based entirely on two factors; 1) I’d heard this guy’s name somewhere, and 2) I had some credit at the used CD place and little else was calling out to me. It was an excellent find. I got a few other CDs on that trip, most of which wound up eventually returning to the bins from whence they came. But that copy of Fibsville has stuck around and I’ve been a fan ever since.

Looking through old reviews, it occurs to me that I have told some variant of this story any time I’ve ever had to mention Danny Michel in one of these reviews. Whatever. At least I’m consistent.

Anyway, I think I’ve bought all of his albums since then, and have enjoyed them all. However, the live experience, at least in my experience, hasn’t always been able to measure up. The first few times I saw him, I thought he was fantastic, but the last few times I’ve seen him weren’t so hot. One time, he was clearly exhausted after driving something like 10 hours to get to a show with an apathetic crowd in a half-filled Exchange. Most recently, I saw him as part of the Songwriters’ Circle at Junofest, where he was good, but I found him upstaged by the likes of Kathleen Edwards and Bahamas.

But this would be my first chance to see a proper Danny solo show in… my goodness, seven years? And this is a special tour. Have you ever seen something stupid and amazing and ridiculous online and daydreamed about buying it? The short version is that unlike most of us*, Danny Michel has some follow-through. And that is how he bought a 1970s van airbrushed with Star Trek murals. And with a red velvet interior. Yes. He’s taking it on tour across Canada and filming a web series along the way, with people like 54-40, Jann Arden, Chris Hadfield, and Barney Bentall recording songs in the space van. On the very day of our show, he was in a parade in Vulcan, Alberta, because of course he would have to be. So I had high hopes.

*I own a set of four prints I bought off Etsy featuring the cast of The Golden Girls as zombies. This does not compare to the financial commitment of buying a space van, nor the intestinal fortitude required to take the dang thing on a cross-country tour, but I can’t throw dumb-purchase stones without acknowledging my own glass house.

Sadly, the curse of the Danny Michel show struck again. A curse of… mild disappointment. Which is a pretty good curse to have if one has to have a curse, I guess. But still.

I will preface my whinging by saying that none of this was Danny’s fault. I thought he was delightful and was on pace to be up there with the better shows of his that I’d seen. But the environment left enough to be desired that we ultimately didn’t stick around.

We parked about a block from the venue and I took a few pictures of the sweet space van before we went inside. It was everything I’d hoped it would be; namely, a really awesome van that I am very glad I’m not responsible for.

Again, let me state for the record that I thought Danny was great. He played a set of about 45 minutes before taking a break; in that time, we got Whale of a Tale (from Fibsville), Sweet Things, Feather Fur & Fin, and Wish Willy, among others. He told some fun stories about the space van tour and about the work he’s done with a school in Belize. And most importantly, he asked the crowd to quiet down, which didn’t happen to the degree anyone would have wanted, but I appreciated the effort.

We’ve been to the Artful Dodger twice, for Mo Kenney and for Greg MacPherson. This was quite a while ago now, back when the place was very new. The finishing wasn’t done, and they weren’t serving meals yet. They’ve come a long way since then and I’ve heard lots of great reviews of the food and the venue. Unfortunately, everyone else has apparently heard the same things. Our tickets said 8:00 p.m., which could mean anything from a start time of 8:00 to midnight, in my concert-going experience (in this case, it was around 8:30). We got there at 7:45 and the place was full. Wall-to-wall, no seats open, packed with diners. And the thing about the Artful Dodger is that there is no good place to stand. The stage is small, the floor in front of it is filled with tables, and there are bleachers in the back of the room. Walking from Point A to Point B is difficult and you cannot stand anywhere without being obnoxiously and obviously in someone’s way. We took the best spot that we could in the back of the room but this still put in in the path of the servers and I don’t think 30 seconds went by without one of us (most often Mika) having to move out of someone’s way.

I’m not sure what the rules are at the Artful Dodger. If someone comes in for dinner at 6:00, do they get to stay for the show at 8:00 without buying a ticket? My suspicion is yes; this would explain why we were in between three groups of people, two of which had no interest in the show at all and were just going to keep on having their conversations despite the guy on stage trying to play guitar and sing some songs. There is no crowd so disrespectful as those that did not pay to attend.

The third group could be described as Danny Michel superfans and though I rolled my eyes a bit at their… let’s go with “intensity” – they were really into the show and I find it hard to find fault with that. Especially when there were so many other people nearby with whom I could find all kinds of fault.

Anyway. Like I said, Danny played for 45 minutes before taking a bit of a breather, promising to come back for a second set. I will assume he did and I will assume it was great, but I wouldn’t know. We took the opportunity at the break to call it a night. I gave it a fair shot. I made it to intermission, I enjoyed some songs, I laughed at some stories (especially the Wish Willy one), I had as good a time as I was going to have given the surroundings. Which wasn’t enough to justify staying. The full restaurant and its wood-fired oven meant that it was awfully warm in there. To counteract that, there was a big fan directly behind us, blowing in cool air from the street. Between the ignorant jackasses at the tables around us, the fan noise from behind us, and the general not-ideal standing spot we found ourselves in, we really couldn’t hear all that well, and it was hot (though the wood smoke did lend a certain ambience to the nature-themed Feather Fur & Fin), and it just wasn’t that fun. Mika isn’t a big Danny Michel fan anyway, so instead, I took her for ice cream. I think there’s a lesson there. If you can’t answer yes to “is this better than getting ice cream?” then you may as well just go get ice cream.

space van

space van

red velvet

red velvet

the space shirt is a space magnet to cover painted-on space boobs

the space shirt is a space magnet to cover painted-on space boobs

UPCOMING SHOWS
• Moist (July 11)
• Geoff Berner w/Whiskey Jerks (July 29)
• Lucinda Williams (July 30)
• Gin Blossoms w/ Fastball & The Rembrandts (July 31)
• Fred Eaglesmith w/Tif Ginn (August 2)
• Regina Folk Festival feat. Sinead O’Connor, Jenny Lewis, Vance Joy, Blue Rodeo, Bahamas, more (August 7-9)
• Chubby Checker & The Wildcats (September 26)
• Hawksley Workman (October 16)

SLCR #193: Mo Kenney (September 24, 2013)

September 28, 2013

In recent reviews, I have complained about how I feel like I’m not getting into a lot new music these days. Between the increasing fragmentation of mass media, the fact that new pop music just isn’t meant for me, and my old-man reluctance to try something that I don’t already know and love, it often feels like the only new albums I hear are from my old favourites.

Luckily, Mika listens to CBC Radio 3. Last year, whenever we had to drive somewhere, she started loading up her iPhone with a few installments of their countdown show, the R3-30. It has its share of stuff that I don’t care for, but the hits-to-misses ratio is surprisingly decent. I just made a new CD for the car – because I am old and set in my ways and dang it, I enjoy my outdated technology – and close to half of it is composed of songs I first heard on the R3-30.

One of the first standouts from those podcasts was Mo Kenney’s song Déjà Vu, a song so catchy that I’ll go through the effort of adding the accents even though this is America and we speak English here. I probably first heard the song over a year ago, but I seemingly can’t make myself sick of it. It’s like pizza, which is a comparison that I’m not certain Kenney would appreciate, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Mika bought her debut album – not specifically because it was produced by Joel Plaskett, but that certainly didn’t hurt – and I really enjoyed it, so I was excited for the show. I’d say that the $10 tickets certainly didn’t hurt, but I hate reusing my clichés so close to each other.

We got to the Artful Dodger mere moments after Other James had arrived. We bought drinks and got caught up, by which I mean we mostly swapped cat stories. They climb so high and land so hard and talk so much, but my cat kills birds. Other James would not stand for such behaviour.

Other James had red wine and Mika got a rum and Coke. In my true boring fashion, I opted for a Diet Coke. They served it in this heavy clay glass that got insanely cold. I had to keep switching hands. I fell in love with this glass. People on the internet who don’t know me might think this is a weird statement. People who know me closely will think it is even weirder. I mean, I am 37 and my primary drinking glasses came from Rogers Video and had the logos of James Bond movies emblazoned on them. I am not even kidding about this. You just can’t tell because they’ve gone through the dishwasher often enough to take off most of the lead paint. Other James – because he knows everyone in the province – told me that my glass was made by Martin Tagseth, an artist from Lake Lenore. I cannot prove this to be true and some preliminary googling raises a very important issue; namely, I can’t see a restaurant or bar paying those kinds of prices considering how often glasses get smashed. However, I am gonna put this link right here in case the glass was made by Tagseth, he puts something similar up for sale someday, and a wealthy benefactor wants me to have drinkware that I can also use to kill a man: http://www.mysteria.ca/Artist-Detail.cfm?ArtistsID=702&ppage=120

Man. I wanted to steal the glass and Mika said “no” and I wasn’t really going to do it anyway but now that I had to relive its heft and coldness, I’m sad that I didn’t.

Our opener was Andy Shauf, a singer-songwriter from Regina. I didn’t know a whole lot about him, though I’d seen his name everywhere; it seems like he is one of those Indigo Joseph/Julia McDougall types who plays a ton of shows here and you’ll wind up seeing him every now and then, even if by accident. In voice and mannerisms, he reminded me of some sort of bizarre cross between Will Forte and my friend Colin, a comparison which means precisely nothing to anyone on Earth apart from me. And maybe Colin, if he watched Saturday Night Live a few years ago. But I don’t think he did. Anyway, I thought his songs were pretty decent, though I occasionally had a hard time making out the lyrics and I had a feeling that I might actually prefer the recorded versions. I’m currently listening to a few of his tunes on the Bandcamp page for his newest album – http://andyshauf.bandcamp.com/album/the-bearer-of-bad-news because apparently I’m linking to everything today – and it seems like that might be the case.

I see that his page has five tags: pop, dark, folk, Regina, and clarinet. There was, indeed, a clarinet on stage. When Mika first saw the clarinet, she was skeptical. Other James, on the other hand, was delighted. But when is he not?

Between sets, Other James spent part of the evening chatting with roller derby girls, and he also pointed out the lead singer of Library Voices in the crowd. Like I said, everyone in the province.

Mo Kenney has had two songs that did really well on the R3-30 (that I’ve heard, anyway; I tend to skip the show for weeks at a time). One thing I’ve noticed is that people who’ve heard both seem to have distinct preferences for one or the other – Sucker or Déjà Vu. I’ve already established myself as being firmly in the Déjà Vu camp, but I have a newfound appreciation for Sucker after having learned that it was written while drunk, dumped, and depressed about making pizzas for Sobey’s. It all makes sense now.

Kenney’s album has ten songs and clocks in at only about 34 minutes, so it’s not surprising that she played the whole thing. She was on her first tour with a band – a bass player and a drummer – though they left the stage for about the middle third of the set so Kenney could do some songs by herself. Like on the album, In My Lungs segued into Déjà Vu. Before playing Eden, she mentioned making a video for it with director Greg Jackson; she did not say that this was NOT the same Greg Jackson who is Georges St-Pierre’s coach, so I choose to assume that it was. This was for a contest and they won, so let’s continue with today’s linkfest: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=em6JaCq44nY

The songs from the record were supplemented by some new songs that she’d recently written with some Swedes, as well as a cover of Joel Plaskett’s Somewhere Else. I half-thought Mika might consider this to be blasphemy, but she doesn’t have the no-covering-my-favourites rule that some of my other friends have. Kenney also played Five Years, introducing it as “the first song on a record that my dad gave me; I won’t tell you what it is.” I decided it was a Leonard Cohen song and then I googled it to make sure and haha no whoops it’s David Bowie and probably everyone on Earth knew that but it turns out I sometimes don’t know things about things at all. I suppose this is how one learns.

Kenney seemed a little nervous at times, especially when she was talking between songs. She seemed to loosen up a bit as the show went on, and she also has a dry sense of humour that I found really appealing. Mika noted that her voice seemed the strongest when she was singing other people’s songs. I’m not sure about that; maybe it’s just that most of her own songs are quieter and aren’t really designed to be belted out.

The band closed with a cover of Shakin’ All Over, which was a fun and energetic way to end a really good show. The only real negative during the evening was the crowd; there seemed to be quite a few people who either left as the show was getting going or who just weren’t interested in paying attention. I think some people were only there to see Andy Shauf (I get that; he’s local and he was good and all), and the low ticket prices probably didn’t help matters either. I’ve said before that I’d rather pay to go to a show rather than go to a free show, since the cost weeds out some of the people who aren’t really interested in being there. Maybe raising ticket prices – even $5 or so – might have kept a few not-really-interested people out but brought in as much money? Who knows how these things work.

Kenney said she was planning to stick around after the show and sell CDs, and she also said that people could just talk with her or they could “embrace.” We didn’t stay for that, since Mika already bought the album, and the Artful Dodger had been really warm (which is one reason why I loved that cold glass so much) and it seemed cruel and unfair to ask anyone to embrace me at that point. Other James hung around for a bit; I haven’t talked to him since the show, but I assume him and Mo Kenney are bestest friends now, since that’s just how he works.

UPCOMING SHOWS
• Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls w/The Smith Street Band & Koo Koo Kanga Roo (October 22)
• Loretta Lynn (October 23)
• Herman’s Hermits (the Peter Noone version) (November 20)
• Ben Folds & Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (May 21, 2014)

SLCR #174: Greg MacPherson (September 14, 2012)

September 18, 2012

This was the kind of show that I just love – you go in with high expectations and they’re blown away.

I didn’t love only finding out about this show that morning. The Artful Dodger is a new venue and I haven’t yet gotten into the habit of checking their website or Facebook for upcoming shows. Luckily, the local indie paper’s website had my back. I assume the paper itself would have too, but reading one whole newspaper a week is hard, you guys.

Because of the last-minute discovery, I had to make the call – did we dare go out two evenings in a row? Sure, Friday isn’t a work night, but on the other hand, we’re old and lazy. Knowing that I’d likely want to wimp out if I went home after work, I made the call to buy tickets online and force our hand.

I love how I make “sitting on my ass listening to music” sound so much like hard work. No wonder I never learned how to actually play an instrument.

Mika met me downtown after work and we dined on the finest food court fare. I know how to treat a lady. (Also, I made her pay for her own.)

This mall trip was the best because the old lady who sounds like Carol Channing was back working the watch repair kiosk at The Bay. I hadn’t seen her there in months and was concerned that she’d retired. But no, she was there and I was so delighted that I made Mika replace her home security keyfob battery even though it wasn’t yet dead, just so we could talk to Carol Channing. (I made Mika pay for this too.)

Hey, I did pay for her ticket to the show. And I bought her a beer when we got there. Which is only fair, given that Greg MacPherson isn’t really her thing and she was only going to be nice.

Like I said, the Artful Dodger is a new venue – so new that it looks like they still have to finish up a few things. There looked to be some light fixtures that still needed to be installed, and the evening’s menu (beer, wine, pop, and wings) was a bit lacking. But it’s still very nice so far, with several rows of raised padded benches in a semi-circle in front of the stage. Between standing and seating areas, I bet you could fit 150 people in the place for a show before it really felt overcrowded.

By my count, there were probably about 75 people there for Greg MacPherson (with the standard caveat that I am terrible at estimating these sorts of things). This doesn’t sound like many, but we were the first two people to arrive and for a while, I was concerned that we’d be the only two. Depending on where you looked, it was either doors at 7:30, or doors at 7:00 and the show at 7:30. We got there at 7:15 which was probably too early, but on the other hand, we got personally greeted by Greg in the middle of his “extended soundcheck.” It was almost like having a private concert, albeit one with monotonous guitar and nonsensical lyrics.

Among the attendees were the couple who lived down the hall from me in the apartment. I used to see them at shows all the time, but it’s probably been over a year now. We briefly got caught up, which was way funnier than it should have been for reasons I probably shouldn’t put online. Ask me sometime and I’ll tell you. It’s a shame that these reviews have bitten me in the ass a half-dozen times (deservedly so, I might add) because I’m leaving out the best part.

Greg MacPherson started around 8:30 and like I said, this just blew me away. I’d seen him twice before – once at the 2004 Regina Folk Festival and opening for Hawksley Workman in Winnipeg in 2009 – but this show was so much better than either of those. It wasn’t a full band – just Greg on guitar and Rob Gardiner on drums – but they didn’t need anyone else. Greg’s an incredibly talented songwriter and we got a nice mix of songs from his earliest releases to new stuff that hasn’t made it onto a record yet.

The show really kicked into high gear with First Class, which might be my favourite song of his. He then began taking audience requests, and played most of them. Folks called out for Slow Stroke, Bankrobber, and Company Store, which was nice, because it spared me from having to do so. We got two out of those three, which is pretty good, since Greg remarked that those were the hardest ones to play. Another request was for Heatwave; this wasn’t a song I’d been familiar with, but Greg seemed really pleased that someone would ask for it and told us that he never played that one.

Before the last song, someone else yelled for Company Store. Greg explained that the song was really difficult for him to play because it was a true story; he’d written it for his grandparents and he played it whenever he was out east (he was born in the Maritimes) and it always broke him up, and… “well, I can’t NOT play it after building it up like that.” After warning us not to clap along because it might mess him up, he tore into Company Store for what he said was the first time in over a year. Absolutely intense and absolutely sensational. It put the show over the top from great to awesome.

On the way out, I stopped by the stuff table to pick up one of Greg’s records on vinyl. I shouldn’t take such delight in buying the last one that they had, but I’m a jerk like that. A great show and a great day – and to think, I’d have been satisfied just by spotting the watch-repair lady.